Refined and Renewed: Nappanee Church Rebuilds Following Devastating Fire

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Great Lakes

By Mykaela Alvey

On September 26, 2021, First Church of God in Nappanee, Indiana, suffered devastating damage to their facility by fire. While having an early breakfast before the start of Sunday school classes, the congregation had to evacuate due to flames that had ignited in the attic furnace chimney. “Six departments worked for two-and-a-half hours to put out the blaze,” said Pastor Sam Bennett. “They said the fire was probably burning thirty to forty minutes before we knew it and we were fortunate that it did not come down on us.”

The church was left without a building, and they were left to navigate what services would look like as they tried to rebuild. The rebuild took a year-and-a-half to finish, so the congregation had to manage multiple hurdles in order to continue worshiping together.

Bible-verse meme displayed by the church during demolition.

After a year-and-a-half, the congregation is proud to have a new house for worship. This new building is “a similar footprint [to the original], but totally different at the same time.” Though smaller in square footage, the usable square footage is much larger. “We built our new building around the idea of a wheel,” Pastor Sam said. “The hub of the wheel is the large foyer area that serves as a central location from which all other areas are fed. From the main foyer, we have access to the kid’s wing, sanctuary, activity center, adult wing, and youth rooms.” The hope is that this new building will be much more efficient and effective for ministry.”

Pastor Bennett is very excited about being back in a building again. The church is excited about “the opportunity to share ministry together with [the] community.”

Palm Sunday 2023 was the first Sunday in their new building, and the congregation was “full of energy and excitement.” The church has been able to recognize the blessings in the midst of the tragedy. “There has been a whole new atmosphere within our body since the fire,” Pastor Sam said. “The fire, although it seemed tragic at the time, turned out to be a huge blessing for our body and community.” They even hosted a community celebration service for which they invited all the people who had been supportive of the church through the year-and-a-half of rebuilding, like firefighters, police officers, and various businesses in the community.

Inside the new sanctuary!

There is no doubt that the last year-and-a-half has contained its share of challenges and discouragements for the church, but Pastor Bennett says that they have been able to clearly see God at work through it all. “God has always been faithful, and our story of rising from the ashes has been a great testimony to our community that when bad things happen, God is still at work.” The community was able to see a body of believers work together to rebuild their house of worship, and still praise God through the process. And the community was able to surround the church body in prayer as they navigated this journey. Ultimately, the congregation is “stronger and more equipped to carry out kingdom work because of his faithfulness.”

The church is the body of believers, not a building. It is inspiring to watch First Church of God in Nappanee display this truth to their community as they celebrate the rebuilding of a house of worship.

Anderson University alumna Mykaela Alvey is a funding US missionary based in Greenwood, Indiana. A freelance writer for three years, she loves crafting stories of hope and healing.

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Feature (top) photo: Exterior view of the new church facility.

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